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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Price Of (State) Secondary Education

I've just started my new Western Chances applications for two young women in our Year 10 class. They are being nominated for leadership skills. I think I may have posted about Western Chances before, but not recently.

Western Chances is a scholarship aimed at students in the western suburbs of Melbourne, where a lot of kids have very little money and not much chance of going to university, apart from the TAFE colleges and small local universities. TAFE is fine, but what if you want to do medicine or engineering? At one of the bigger universities? In theory, everyone can go if they're willing to repay some of the debt once they get a job that will have enough income to do so. In practice, there are a lot of expenses you might not have expected, and even if you have a job at McDonald's to help with your share house, it may not be enough... And some have up-front fees; I remember a student of ours who got into nursing, but ended up taking a year off to work up the up-front fees.

And then there's the time before you go to university. This wonderful scholarship was set up some years ago by Terry Bracks, wife of a former Victorian Premier. (That's a state Governor for my US readers). It's not a government thing or it would have been long gone. It relies on donations to pay the staff and help get scholarships out to students who are very good at something but who just can't afford the costs of even a state education. I made a donation this year and last, taken from my inheritance of a few thousand dollars from my late friend jan howard finder(lower-case intended), who passed away a couple of years ago. Businesses do their bit and the staff, who are amazing people, get all sorts of goodies for their Western Chances scholars, as well as the money. I get phone calls from them offering a place in an engineering camp or a free camp of some other kind, and when one of my students said she was interested in events management, the lady I deal with said she knew an events manager who could help to mentor the young lady.

But here's the thing: kids change their minds. These two went for counselling from their teachers and were advised on the subjects best for them. And the girl who had planned on events management changed her mind and decided on teaching. Specifically Foods teaching. For that, she plans on doing a VET subject, Hospitality. Which will cost her $400. And probably a textbook.

And General Maths - $88 for the textbook and $200 for a special calculator.

And Business Management - if she does that as a VET subject, it will cost $200. The VCE version(I hope that's what she's planning) will cost less, but there's certainly a textbook involved.

And Health and Human Development(I'm not sure of how much the textbook for that will cost, but it's bound to be $70-80).

And Psychology? $108 for the text and workbook.

In some cases, second-hand books are possible, but not always. Psychology's textbook has changed, so this year books had to be bought new. Even if they can get them second-hand this year, there's still the workbook, which has to be bought new because you write in them.

How on earth do most kids manage? Not all the kids at my school are from poor families, but that doesn't mean they can afford all the textbooks, not to mention calculators (a good reason not to do maths! And now the Federal government is talking about making maths compulsory all the way through).

And kids who are doing the expensive practical subjects(VET) are quite often kids from poorer families.

The other girl is not as complicated as this one, but she too has some expensive subject choices. Maths alone will cost her $288 and she may need tutoring. I said I'd see if I can get her some money for tutoring - there's an inexpensive tutoring service in the area, but it would still be around $200 altogether for 20 sessions. I'm hoping that there will be free reconditioned laptop computers available this year - there wen't last year, which is why the boys I nominated were given the money and told to arrange their own. It worked out, but they had to agree to make that their scholarship gift for the year. It was too dear for anything else. They already have their special calculators, thank heaven!

I may have to say, "If we can't get a reconditioned computer, you'll have to make a choice."

I know that textbook authors do a lot of work and have to be up-to-date, but really, do textbooks have to be quite that expensive?

Ah, well, I think the young ladies might have to settle for help towards their needs; I just don't think I can get them money for the lot. It will depend on how many applications WC gets this year - and it is very popular.

This is one of those things I do when I'm not being a library and English teacher or writing books or short stories. The kids deserve a hand up! And a few hundred a year can make a huge difference.

I'm off work today after a sleepless night; if you work in an office you can sit at your desk and try to focus, but not when you have kids to teach. It's not a job you can get away with being tired. The kids know when you're faking it.

So, off to rest a bit.

Just Been To See... Star Trek: Beyond

Well, I had to go at some stage, didn't I? I have loved Star Trek since discovering it in my teens. The original cast are either old or have passed away. So it has been wonderful seeing the new young cast who have grown into their roles over the last three movies.

A friend at work suggested we should go together. Weekends are difficult for me nowadays - family commitments on Saturday and some of Sunday, plus Sunday is the only day I can clean the house and make sure my classes are ready for next day. 

We went, instead, after work to the cinema complex nearest the school. We had something to eat beforehand - in my case just scone and tea, in hers a sandwich - and, on an impulse, decided to go Gold Class - small cinema and you get to have ordered food and drink brought to you as you loll in a comfy chair. I keep Gold Class for special films, but it was my friend's first time. She was delighted. We both ordered gourmet pecan pie-flavoured popcorn and mineral water, but we could have ordered a meal or even cocktails if we'd chosen. To be honest, the popcorn was nice, but not worth what we paid for it. Next time I'll have something more substantial. 

The movie was very enjoyable. I couldn't help noticing that the Enterprise was destroyed AGAIN in the third film of the series, as in The Search For Spock. Not a spoiler, as it happens about ten or fifteen minutes into the movie and the characters have a lot on their plates as the film goes on. I must admit, I found the villain's motivation a bit hard to swallow, as was the reveal about his background, but it was a fast-moving action piece and what I loved best about it was the build-up of our heroes. 

Spock and McCoy have their familiar relationship that we all know and love. Kirk has begun to do that quirky little smile at the corners of his mouth and his personality has also begun to be the familiar  cheeky Kirk not-a-boy-scout one. At the same time, he does the usual Kirk lecture to the villain. Oh, yes, this young man may not look like Bill Shatner, but the script is right and he is getting the mannerisms right too. 

Zachary Quinto's Spock voice is beginning to sound a lot like Leonard Nimoy's, while Karl Urban has been McCoy from the very beginning. I believe DeForest Kelley would have been delighted with him - and with the way the character is drawn, from sharing a (stolen from Chekhov)Scotch with Kirk early in the film to protesting, "I'm a doctor, not a..." as he's whisked off on an away mission he really doesn't want. 

The music was good, by Michael Giacchino, a composer who has done the scores for several movies I enjoyed, including the new Trek movies and Up. There was, of course, the Alexander Courage theme at the end. I'm into film music in a big way and have always been. My brother and I used to collect and share the recordings of our favourite films when we were both living at home. I guess I'll have to keep an eye out for the score to this one.

There was a tribute at the end to the two cast members who have gone since the last film was made. Leonard Nimoy' of course, but it was rather sad to see the young Anton Yelchin as Chekhov and know he would never be back. I believe they have decided not to re-cast the character. 

Chekhov did get to do his line about Scotch having been invented by a little old lady(from Leningrad in the original, in Russia here).

Here's a Creative Commons picture of him I found on Wikipedia. 

Sleep well, Anton! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

CBCA Shortlist. Now Reading: A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay

I'm around 70 pages in since last night. This one has already won some awards, including the Aurealis, and been shortlisted in another. It's a dystopian novel in which a small village is located in a valley formed after a rockslide long ago. It's run by the Mothers and girls are valued more than boys because they can be sent, if good enough, into the mountain to harvest mica, which, in this world, is useful for heat and light. They need an alternative to wood fires because in the winter the snow comes right up to the top of the houses and smoke can't escape theough the chimneys, though they do have escape pipes.

I must admit I never knew mica could be used for that! Must look it up. 

So, these girls have to be small in order to squeeze into the tunnels. They're swaddled for their first few years, they eat as little as possible and if they're not quite small enough, well, bones can be broken and rearranged... The chosen girls receive training and are formed into teams to go harvest mica. Then they do something else for the rest of their lives, including having babies, preferably females - the whole village parties when a girl is born. 

I can't help wondering, though, if these people have, as it seems, been stranded in this valley for quite a few generations, wouldn't the gene pool be rather small? Everyone would be related to everyone else. That hasn't been mentioned yet, but still a couple of hundred pages to go. The soil would be rather poor after being farmed all that time, so I can only assume they have a three-field system. 

Anyway, more to come! 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

CBCA Shortlist: The Flywheel by Erin Gough. Ampersand Prize Winner

I bought this in ebook while listening to the author at Reading Matters last year, as well as a copy for the library. I never got past the first few pages, for no special reason. 

And today I read the lot, finishing a few minutes ago. It's one of those "just one more chapter" books. It was a Saturday and the book was on the CBCA shortlist, so... 

It has a lot of charm and humour. It reminds me, oddly, of one of Will Kostakis's novels, without the Greek family or the gay boy. This one is about being a gay girl and trying to run the family restaurant to give her Dad a chance to have a break and an overseas holiday after years of no holidays and a wife who left him for another man and moved from Sydney to Melbourne. But Del(short for Delilah)has troubles when the manager is deported over visa issues and she can't find another one.

 Like the vengeful barista she had to sack when he was lazy and stole money. Like the franchise cafe competing with hers. And then there's her friend Charlie who has moved in to hide from the police after he punched out the father of a young woman he had a crush on. And the beautiful flamenco dancer Rosa whom she watches performing at the tapas bar across the road every night from her window. And the bullying at school for being gay and having had a romance with a girl who is now denying it and telling everyone who will listen that Del had the wrong idea about her. 

Somehow, despite all the disasters, and a case of insta-love, the book is funny, the voice delightful. 

I'll be interested to see how the book will go over with our students. They don't seem to mind the gay boy books - Will Kostakis and David Levithan's books go over quite well in our library, though usually after a teacher recommendation. One of our boys is currently reading and enjoying The Sidekicks, but then, he's a Kostakis fan in general. It was so nice to be able to introduce them last year at Reading Matters when Will came over to say hi. 

I'm sure there are some girls out there not admitting to their sexuality, but I don't know. Even if they aren't around at my school, there's plenty for everyone. 

Interestingly, if Cloudwish was a love letter to Melbourne, this novel is a tribute to Sydney. I've been in Glebe, where it's set, in the YHA, probably the hostel mentioned in it. It's a fairly posh suburb near the sea. I haven't been to the library which the characters campaign to save, but you can check it out in Google Images. It has tourists wanting a bus to Bondi beach, Rose Bay, where two of my nieces live, Central Station and Redfern. You don't have to live there to be able to picture it. 

This novel won the Ampersand Prize given annually by Hardie Grant Egmont for a debut novel.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Reading The CBCA Shortlist

I now have most - not all - of the Older and Younger Readers books for this year in my library and I've decided to make my way through them and comment as I go.

I've already read and commented on Soon by Morris Gleitzman and Cloudwish by Fiona Wood.

I'm nearly finished reading Sue Lawson's piece of historical fiction set in a small NSW town in 1965, Freedom Ride. It is, of course, about the Australian Freedom Ride led by Charles Perkins, who makes a brief appearance in the novel.

The hero is a white boy, Robbie, who lives with his father and his grandmother. He is not very happy in this life, which includes a school bully, an unpleasant grandmother and a father who goes to the RSL every Friday night and has some secrets her has never shared with Robbie.

And, of course, there's the small-town racism and ignorance and a local policeman who isn't interested in looking after the rights of the local indigenous people, even when one is killed, let alone when they're bashed up.

When Barry Gregory, a young man who has been in London, returns to his hometown to help his mother run the caravan park, things improve for Robbie, who takes a job with him and learns about the outside world and the fact that racism isn't nearly as bad in London as in his town.

I'm enjoying the 1960s references, including to OZ Magazine, which Barry reads.

It does take most of the book to actually get around to the Freedom Riders arriving in Walgaree, Robbie's home, though they're mentioned earlier - and abused by Robbie's father and grandmother.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what else is available on this year's shortlist. There are some good books so far.

Anyone else reading them?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Finally Reading... The Janna Chronicles by Felicity Pulman

I've had all the Janna books in my library for some time, including the last two, which the author had to self publish after her original publisher dropped them. But I've never got around to reading them before; I bought them for some of the students, who had requested them.

However, having a browse through the crime section on iBooks, I found to my delight that they are now available in ebook, published again by Momentum, the digital imprint of Pan Macmillan, which also does print on demand. The covers are new too. And it was only $4.99 and not too large a download, so I bought the first of the series, Blood Oath. I think I'll be reading the rest now.

In case you're not familiar with the series, it's a series of YA historical mysteries set during the time of  Stephen and Matilda's fight over the English throne. The heroine is a young woman who is a herbalist trained by her mother. I haven't yet read far enough for the mystery bit to start, but I'm feeling comfortable in this world, which was so well described in the Brother Cadfael novels.

Actually, the author says in her note that she was inspired by the Brother Cadfael mysteries to make her heroine a herbalist, though her sympathies lie on the side of Matilda, while the characters in the Ellis Peters books prefer Stephen.

Well, must get back to it - Chapter 5 beckons!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Food And Fiction

Yesterday I stumbled across an online article about "Ten Memorable Meals In Fiction." I found it rather disappointing. It wasn't just that I'd read only two of the ten books. I could live with that and even say, "Hey, that sounds like a book I might try." It just didn't have any substance. 

So, here are a few(not ten, sorry!) universes which had food and eating scenes that I enjoyed. 

A Song Of Ice And Fire, aka Game Of Thrones

I've written about this before, including a review of the cookbook, A Feast Of Ice And Fire, written by some fans who did a lot of research, a lot more cooking and finally produced the book, presenting the author with goodies mentioned in his novels. And there are plenty! People in this series eat. And eat. Most of the foods - not all - are mediaeval. Some murders and mass murders happen at feasts - though I guess if you're going to kill all your enemies, it makes sense to do it when they're all in one place, and it has certainly happened in history.

Harry Potter

Another universe in which people eat and eat. I sometimes wonder why Hogwarts students don't come home bigger than Dudley Dursley. Even when they're not having a feast - and they do have one to celebrate the beginning and end of term and another one on Halloween(also on Christmas Day, but there are only a few kids left at school for that) - there is a large choice of foods for breakfast and dinner, including dessert. There are the Honeydukes sweets(including chocolate for overcoming the shock of Dementors) and such wizardly treats as cauldron cakes and butterbeer. We're never told what either of those are, but that hasn't stopped fans from trying to make both. What is a cauldron cake? Is it shaped like a cauldron or baked in a cauldron? Is it even sweet?

 And butterbeer. We know it's low-alcohol(unless you're a House Elf, in which case it's quite possible to get drunk on it). We know it's delicious and warming. That's about it. But there are masses of recipes out there. One, as I recall, includes butterscotch schnapps! Never had that, but I bet it's rather more alcoholic than butterbeer! The only butterbeer recipe I might consider trying is from the web site Food Through The Pages, which is written by one of the abovementioned Ice And Fire fans. Research by her produced a 16th century recipe for something called Buttered Beer. Sounds good to me.


The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien begins with the chapter "An Unexpected Party", establishing the Hobbits as a race who like their food - not to mention the Dwarves, who pretty much empty out Bilbo Baggins's walk-in pantry over afternoon tea. Of course, there are thirteen of them, plus Gandalf the wizard. A late friend of mine once sent me a carefully typed-out article called "The Pleasures Of The Hobbit Table", which I scanned in order not to lose it. All the food described is very English in style. And Tolkien's English food isn't the stodgy stuff most of us imagine when we hear "English food." Simple, yes, but not stodgy.  It has been said that simple food is the hardest to get right, because you can't hide it behind sauces and spices. 

In The Lord Of The Rings we have the opening chapter, "A Long-Expected Party" in which Bilbo and Frodo celebrate their joint birthday and Bilbo nicks off to live at Rivendell. There is a detailed description of what everyone gets to eat at this party.  Later in the book, Sam Gamgee offers to make fish and chips for Gollum, who just can't get his head around the idea of spoiling lovely fresh, tender meat by cooking it.

And the Elves! They can throw together a feast in no time. And I did love that scene in the Hobbit movie in which one of the Dwarves looks up from his vegetarian meal of mostly lettuce and asks plaintively if he could maybe have some fish and chips. It wasn't in the novel, but it does confirm my view that the High Elves, anyway, tend to be living in New Age artist colonies. 

 But the most important Elvish foods are lembas bread and miruvor, a drink that will warm and comfort you when you need it most. Lembas is supposed to be a travel bread that lasts and lasts. What it really is, is the blessed wafer you have in church, while miruvor is the wine. Tolkien was a devout Catholic. See my earlier post about March 25th. 


Terry Pratchett's POV characters are mostly English-type people, who like bacon and eggs for breakfast, the greasier the better. Sam Vimes, the world-weary police chief, can't handle eating anything that doesn't make his arteries clang. As far as he's concerned, Burnt Crunchy Bits are an essential food group. His wife, Lady Sybil, feels she ought to be cooking for him, but as she isn't very good at it, she delights him with greasy, burnt food, just the way he likes it. Sam's idea of a BLT sandwich is plenty of B and skip the L and T altogether. 

There are the dwarfs, who bake bread that is so tough you can use it as a weapon - and they do. There's an entire museum of Dwarf Bread, including guerrilla crumpets. The Low King is crowned on the Scone of Stone. You certainly can't eat dwarf bread. So it's good to take on a journey because it lasts and lasts -  you'll eat anything rather than the bread.The joke is clearly meant to be about the journey breads mentioned in Tolkien's fiction, in which the Dwarves have a long lasting journey bread called cram. Pratchett's dwarfs love to eat rats, whether rat on a stick or in a pizza(quatri rodenti pizza is ordered in the novel Soul Music). 

There are Klatchian takeaways where you can buy curry, though the English characters think curry is yellow and contains swedes and sultanas. 

Anyway, people eat a lot in the Discworld novels! 

Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher and Corinna Chapman

Kerry Greenwood writes crime fiction. And her characters eat. And eat. Partly, I think, it's because the author is herself a good cook who enjoys food. 

Phryne Fisher, her Jazz Era detective, is a small slim woman with Dutch Doll hair. She should be the size of a barn the way she eats. Phryne is wealthy and can afford to go out to dinner - and shout her dinner companions. Which she does. And we're treated to detailed descriptions of those meals. I suspected one was pollo e funghi pasta and tried it out and very nice it was. Kerry told me it was based on a pollo e funghi she'd had in Florence. 

But she has a wonderful cook, Mrs Butler, whose buffet meals are also described in great detail, from the soup to the dessert and savouries, followed by cocktails. And her adopted daughter, Ruth, wants to be a cook and in Dead Man's Chest she has the chance to cook for the family while they're on holiday at Queenscliff, because the staff of the house they're borrowing have vanished.

Corinna Chapman is a baker and she is a large lady. She takes great pleasure both in cooking and in eating out with her boyfriend Daniel. Restaurant meals are described and Corinna and Daniel usually end them with delicious gelato for dessert. Her apprentice Jason is a master of the muffin, including an amazing chocolate muffin for which the author provides a recipe at the end of the book. And I use her recipe for French Onion soup, very nice and easy to make and perfect for a winter night. 

I think Corinna is meant to be Kerry. She is built the same way and has the same love of food and cooking.

There are plenty more, of course, such as Enid Blyton. I've always wished I could try the honey biscuits described in the Faraway Tree books - and there are fans out there who have made up their own recipes for these. Characters in Enid Blyton books eat a lot. Don't forget the midnight feasts!

But I'll leave it here and invite your own thoughts on fiction and food. Any suggestions?

Friday, July 15, 2016

O Joy! Classic Kuttner In Ebook!

After my last post, I found in iBooks a Best Of Henry Kuttner, one of those books from SF Gateway, which has been republishing classic SF in ebook format.

It had some very familiar stories I last read many years ago. "Mimsy Were The Borogroves" was the first in the book. I think somewhere I have a vinyl recording of William Shatner reading that, but I'll need one of those special turntables to record it on to USB stick, then burn it to CD. It's the famous story about two children playing with toys sent from the far distant future by a man trying to build a time machine. They're his son's old toys and he just wants to use them to try out his prototype but he gives up when three tests don't bring the machine back. One of the three is picked up by a little girl in 19th century England, who has an "Uncle Charles" - hence the first verse of "Jabberwocky", which is a code ... I think he may have written that with his wife, C.L Moore, who was best known for her horror and fantasy fiction.

There's also "Nothing But Gingerbread Left", which I'm looking forward to rereading. You know how you sometimes can't get a song or tune out of your head? Well, some folk in the U.S. use that in the war against the Nazis. Delightful!

And, best of all, not one, but two Hogben stories! I didn't think you could get those in ebook(though there was that one short story I mentioned in my last post). One of the stories, "Cold War", I've read, but am happy to read again. The other, "Exit The Professor", I haven't.

I know there was a book called The Hogben Chronicles, published a few years ago by crowdfunding, but I think it was a limited edition and it was only in print. There were, at the time, copyright issues that didn't allow for ebooks.

But hopefully, sooner or later, things do change for most books. Ray Bradbury wouldn't allow his books in ebook for years, but now they're available. Harper Lee took a long time about it, but finally agreed to let her classic novel be ebooked.

You just have to be patient and keep looking.

Back to my new book!